Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s novel La Vagabonde about struggling 33-year-old divorcée Renée Néré has only had a handful of translations into English since its original publication in 1910. It was picked up for its first translation in the late 1950s as a result of its sensitive nature concerning female sexuality and patriarchal oppression of the physical and mental female sphere. Due to the bowdlerized and outdated language of previous English interpretations of the novel, I set forth to create a new translation that would convey the complex simplicity of Colette’s words and the ever-relevant themes of the novel that may have been overlooked in the past. Although Colette’s diction is simple, her poetic use of grammar, focused rhetoric, and poignant insights into the female experience are deceptively intricate.
In this introduction, I discuss the methodology used while translating the novel and a few of the linguistic, semantic, and cultural problems I encountered while working on this new annotated translation. I also explain the cultural and literary context of popular novels during the fin-de-siècle that helped create motifs and themes that Colette later inverses in the novel. Colette reverses the narrative of the male spectator sitting in the dark theatre, eyes fixed on the desirable form of the female performer. Instead, Renée observes those in her life reversing the male gaze in onto itself.
Despite the meticulousness of the translator, each translation remains only an interpretation of the original text. From hunting motifs to the socio-economic role of diction in class structure during La Belle Époque, I discuss the specific diction Colette uses to show Renée’s dissociation of self and internalized misogyny in her stream-of-consciousness narration.
Following the introduction is seventy-nine pages of the new translation with annotations on certain cultural and linguistic peculiarities unique to French culture and language.